Librarian note: an older cover for this edition can be found here.
An ancient and dangerous power is being handed down from mother to daughter through some of the most consequential historic events of the last two centuries.
After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew.
From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.
Set in Europe this story follows a family of witches spanning five generations and chronicles how the magic is passed down from mother to daughter and their efforts to keep their craft a secret. I really did not care for this book, it lacked any detail and intrigue. The story of each daughter just seemed like the same story repeated over again with minor alterations of detail. Girl is puzzled by secrecy of mother, receives her powers at puberty, fights with mother, finds baby daddy, bears daughter, repeat. The story was so bland and void of detail it almost felt like reading a textbook, even the suspenseful parts with a fiery witch hunter on their trail just fizzled out to nothing. My feminist soul was also cringing the entire time. I recognize that during this time period women had very few rights, but this family it set up right at the beginning to be a matriarchal society with the grandmother at the head whose orders are followed by all, including the men. Then upon her death all of a sudden we forget about all that and we resort back to sexist gender roles. Our one protagonist at one point when finding she is pregnant actually thinks "she was breeding".....what?? I was looking forward to a story full of strong women doing awesome witchy things, nope. They can do all sorts of crazy things at the tip of a hat, yet still meekly follow the orders of the men around them...who are in full knowledge of their capabilities. Found that extremely hard to accept. And the sexism is not only limited to the women, the men are also described as being incapable of crying or really any emotion at all, get those gender stereotypes out of here! We are talking about a book with witches and magic, how about a little mutual respect and equality within the family. The book wasn't even saved by interesting descriptions of magic for me. There was no consistency with the magic system , it worked sometimes and appeared to have limitless power, and then didn't for no particular reason, and back and forth. The magical elements were just extremely unimaginative in general and didn't hold any interest. Flat characters, static plot and loads of sexism, I'd give this read a pass. For more reviews and other bookish things visit my blog https://unlikelymagic.com
Intriguing book covering five generations of witches from a Romani tribe of gypsies. The craft is passed from mother to daughter and the story is organized with a section of the book on each witch - Nanette, Ursule, Irene, Morwen, and Veronica. Each of the stories is similar in that the craft was passed from mother to daughter, witches are prosecuted and they fear this and hide their craft, etc. But each has a different level of power. A strong mother-daughter bond as well as a historical family bond are emphasized throughout. The daughters are passed the family grimoire and scrying stone left by the Orchiere family matriarch, Grandmere Ursule. A well-written book mixing history and fantasy.
Thanks to Louisa Morgan and Orbit Books / Redhook through Netgalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
A Secret History of Witches is one of those stories that span many generations, following a magical line of women through the ages starting from early 19th century Brittany up to the end of World War II. Told in five parts, the story first begins with the life of Nanette Orchiére, the youngest of six sisters. Descended from the Romani, her family has always been persecuted for their heritage but also for their women’s gift of magic, as seen in Nanette’s grandmother, the powerful witch Ursule Orchiére. For the sake of her clan, Ursule had sacrificed her life when Nanette was just a little girl. Now the family lives on a secluded farm along the Cornwall coast, keeping to themselves lest they draw the attention of the town’s leery priest.
Still, the sisters fear that the Orchiére gift will die with their generation—that is, until Nanette falls pregnant following a brief tryst with a traveling farrier. The birth of a baby girl, named Ursule after Nanette’s legendary grandmother, gives them all hope that their magical lineage will indeed survive. And so, we continue the story with the life of this Ursule, following her as she learns the secret ways of her inheritance, until she too meets a handsome stranger and conceives a daughter, Irène, passing on her powers. Self-centered and viciously ambitious, Irène disdains the farming life and so goes on to charm her way into a marriage with a nobleman, giving birth to Morwen. And Morwen, after escaping to London in order to get away from her horrible mother, ends up finding love for herself, giving birth to Veronica in the early 20th century. Following in the footsteps of the Orchiére women who came before her, Veronica must also find her own way to her magic and claim her birthright. But even though more than a century has passed since this story first started and Europe is on the cusp of the Second World War, she will encounter many of the same challenges and uncertainties that her ancestors faced, despite the changing times.
Whether you’ll like A Secret History of Witches is going to highly depend on how you feel about multi-generational novels. Do you prefer stories that focus on just one or a few characters the whole way through? If yes, then this one might be a struggle, for the people you’ll get to know and connect with at the beginning won’t be around by the end, and with each generation there are new faces to meet, new stories to learn. While certain themes will persist through all of the characters’ lives as their magical power is passed from mother to daughter, each Orchiére woman will also have their own dedicated section of the novel containing a self-contained plot arc with individual developments and conflicts. My guess is that fans of familial epics or sweeping historical sagas will eat this one right up, but those who are unused to this format might find it a bit jarring.
Myself, I don’t mind novels spanning multiple generations, but this one could have been stronger if it hadn’t been so repetitive. Each section reads pretty much the same way: the character first learns about her family’s magic, is skeptical before becoming convinced, and inevitably there will be a handsome stranger to come along to sweep her off her feet, fathering a daughter on her. More frustrating to me is that for all that the Orchiére women boast of their magic, they only ever seem to use it to snag a man or to get pregnant, which seems like a waste of their powers. The author is also very heavy handed with the message about oppressive men whose fear leads them to hate, a theme that was already firmly established by the time Nanette’s section was over, so it just became exasperating by the third time this same diatribe was repeated from mother to daughter.
Is it any wonder then that my favorite Orchiére characters ended up being Irène and Veronica? Irène was a despicable, selfish, manipulative, and shallow person as well as a terrible mother, but at least her story felt very different from the others and that alone was enough to make her section the most interesting. As for Veronica, she may have used the gift for the sake of her love interest, but at least she also put it to good use in aiding the war effort, and it fascinated me to see how witches working together were able to affect the outcome of certain battles.
Overall, A Secret History of Witches was a book that started out strong, but eventually, the cyclical nature of the women’s stories became its main weakness. In the end, only a couple of the characters stood out. That said, Louisa Morgan’s writing is solid, and I still think this novel would be good choice for readers who enjoy historical fiction with a light touch of fantasy, or for those who enjoy the drama of family sagas.
Audiobook Comments: Much like the story itself, I thought Polly Lee’s narration was decent but could have been better. Some of her accents were a bit iffy, and I’m very sure that’s not how you pronounce “Samhain”. Still, there was nothing deal breaking about the performance, though I can’t help but think the audiobook might have been more immersive had they gone with multiple narrators, one for each different Orchiére character.
A Secret History of Witches is a family saga that spans over a century. It stars five generations of women – Nanette, Ursule, Irène, Morwen, and Veronica – from a Romani family, the Orchiéres, and takes us from Brittany to Cornwall to Wales to London. The women of the Orchiére family carry on the family tradition of witchcraft, passed down from mother to daughter.
This book was a mixed bag for me, with some things I enjoyed and others that could have been better. What I loved the most, though, were the characters. This book places its female characters at the center of the narrative; all the main characters are women and there is a strong focus on mother-daughter relationships. Each of the five main characters had a unique personality that leapt off the page and I fell in love with them one by one. They were what brought this story to life for me.
I also enjoyed Louisa Morgan’s writing style. It was easy to sink into, with a nice flow that kept me reading all the way through this five hundred-plus page novel. I can understand why some describe this book as repetitive and weren’t drawn in to the story. The plot is very cyclical and there isn’t much action, but that’s more or less what I expect from a family saga.
The reason I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I’d hoped was that it didn’t meet my expectations for fantasy or for historical fiction; instead, it sat awkwardly between the two genres. On the one hand, there were some parts that were just too far-fetched for historical fiction. But on the other hand, there wasn’t enough magic for fantasy. I was left unsatisfied on both fronts.
The Orchiére women spoke frequently of magic, to the point where it was obviously meant to be the focal point of the story, but they rarely used it. As other reviewers have mentioned, they mostly used it to attract men who would impregnate them, which was frustrating. I often talk about missed opportunities that prevent books from living up to their full potential; this was a major one.
But overall, I did enjoy this book, even if it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it would be. I liked spending time with Morgan’s characters. I might look into some of her other books and see if they interest me.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed it, and yet I found it unevenly written. Though yes, I KNOW it is about witches, some of it went beyond my ability to suspend disbelief, not because of the magic, but because of the characters' actions. And I found the end to be abrupt and not terribly satisfying.
A Secret History of Witches tells the tale of five generations of witches in a gypsy family. Mothers pass the gift to their daughters. They are persecuted and have to hide their powers from others. Spanning the time from the early 1800s to WW2, the book is divided into five sections, one for each of the five Orchiere family witches -- Nanette, Ursule, Irene, Morwen and Veronica.
This book was at times a little too slow moving, but there is such a strong mother-daughter love through each generation that I felt that emotion was almost more important than the magic. The family grimoire and scrying stone speak differently to each generation as they receive their powers at puberty.
All in all, I enjoyed this book. At times, the plot moved along a bit slowly and I felt the ending was a bit lack-luster, even abrupt. But it didn't really hurt my enjoyment of the overall story.....the characters, their love for each other, and how the passed down power effected them all a bit differently was enough to keep me reading. What the story lacks in action, it makes up for in emotion and a sense of Family passed down through generations. Normally, I tend to not like stories that span multiple generations because the character/time/generation changes can seem abrupt or some portions of the story can be left unresolved. I didn't feel that way about this book, except at the very end. I felt this book was a nice mix of historical fiction and fantasy. I would definitely read more by this author.
The cover art is fantastic!
**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Orbit Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**
‘A Secret History of Witches’ is a generational tale of a long line of Romani witches and the relationship between mothers and daughters and the passing down of their shared history. It’s also a story of families fleeing from persecution, class and religious prejudices and also the importance of holding on to tradition and culture in an ever evolving modern world. The novel beautifully explores the fragility of love and the power of survival with themes that are still relevant today.
I would like to thank the publisher, Orbit Books, for providing me with a digital advanced copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was so excited to be approved as this book is SO in my wheelhouse. A historical family saga about witches? Yes, please.
After having read the book, I have been hesitant to write this review because, honestly, A Secret History of Witches theoretically rang all my bells but failed to live up to my expectations. This was a so-so read for me. I’m not sorry I read it. However, it’s not going to be a book that I recommend. The writing is solid. It’s the story and character development that is problematic.
Although I typically love family sagas, this one is composed of stories that are too similar. The five women all have the same struggles and basic journey, so it felt like I was reading the same story again and again. Also, their stories felt incomplete. Each character’s journey was cut off just when it was getting interesting to make way for the next character. In order to fulfill my expectations, this book would have had to have been significantly longer.
Another issue I had is that the women are so unlikable! The majority are selfish, vain, ungrateful things. I just couldn’t handle it. I appreciate that this book featured a cast of independent women. I like to see that in my fiction. But in this case, it wasn’t a positive representation, which is unfortunate.
I would have loved to have seen the author delve deeper into the historical time periods, and explore how this factored in to change things for each individual character more, as the blurb implies. I thought this plot aspect was underdeveloped in the actual book.
Another reader might really enjoy this book. It’s well-written in a technical sense and has a beautiful cover to draw the reader in. It just wasn’t for me.
When I picked up A Secret History of Witches, I was hoping for a sprawling family saga a la Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour which I thoroughly enjoyed both for its beautiful prose and captivating plot. Well, hope might spring eternal but patience has a limit, and I reached mine by page 200. Not only is the story tediously repetitive with each new generation of witches basically doing the same things as the last, the characterization is also incredibly shallow and clunky in its sexist representation of gender. Men are either evil or stupid to the extreme, while more often than not women sound like insufferable brats full of themselves. In short, if you’re looking for examples of female empowerment done wrong (although for the life of me I don't know why you'd want to!), then this book is most definitely for you. As for the magic itself, don’t expect to be charmed by any spell, incantation or supernatural manifestation, because everything is kept to a boring minimum where instead of fantastic fireworks you only get sputtering duds. First DNF of 2019. Hopefully the last.
Co tam powtarzalność czy wymyślne nawiązania do historii Europy.
Co to była za klimatyczna książka!
Lubicie magię? Te wszystkie fiolki z tajemniczą zawartością, eliksiry przyrządzane potajemnie w piwnicy, zioła zbierane na okolicznych łąkach w czasie mglistych poranków, dziwne talizmany i księgi chowane przed wzrokiem ludzi. No i to życie w zgodzie z matką naturą oraz zgromadzenia mające miejsce w ukrytej grocie. Brzmi cudownie, prawda?
"Tajemna historia czarownic" to niezwykła saga historyczna, która prezentuje czytelnikom losy aż pięciu pokoleń. Poznajemy niesamowite matki i córki, które są obdarzone magicznymi mocami. Śledzimy dzieje silnych kobiet, które ze względu na liczne zagrożenia, ukrywają swoje zainteresowania i pochodzenie nawet przed najbliższymi.
To ciągła walka ze złymi mocami, ucieczki przed łowcami czarownic i wewnętrzne rozterki bohaterek. Używając otrzymanego daru do własnych celów, muszą czasem płacić bardzo wysoką cenę.
Czy historie babć czegoś ich nauczą, czy każda z nich obierze własną drogę? Czy mężczyźni w końcu zrozumieją przeznaczenie swoich kobiet, czy ciągle będą one musiały ciągle potajemnie wymykać się z domu? Przeczytajcie tę książkę a na pewno znajdziecie w niej odpowiedzi na te pytania.
- Morwen, jesteś dostatecznie duża, by zrozumieć mężczyzn. Lubią, żeby kobiety pięknie wyglądały, miały dobre maniery, rodziły im synów. Nie oczekują od nich - nie chcą - by same o sobie decydowały. Kobiety nigdy nie mogą się sprzeciwiać, robić scen, nigdy, przenigdy okazywać uczuć.
Meh! Interesting enough to finish, but rather cyclical and predictable. The last witch story almost made me stop reading because one character was so ridiculous to introduce, but I was on an airplane, so I finished it. More continuity between the witches would have helped with depth of character.
While a scrying stone or spell prove useful in this book, the real power the characters have is the undeniable strength of the mother-daughter bond. Set against tangible historical backdrops, A Secret History of Witches pursues this primal, nuanced, and complicated relationship that every woman lives with.
I loved this book! This story is the history of the Orchires witches. It's full, rich and complex. It's beautiful, real and tragic. The characters are so different from one another yet tied together by blood and the craft as they call it. It's beautiful to hear from the craft waxes and wanes throughout time. If you like witchy kind of books, you will love this one. I listened to the audio book, read by Polly Lee. I have listened to a few other books narrated by her. She was wonderful as always. I will most definitely read or listen to more from this author.
A Secret History Of Witches is a beautifully written and wonderfully absorbing read following one family of practicing witches down the ages, facing prejudice, a long heritage and a struggle to maintain their old ways. It is also a fascinating character driven drama about the relationship between mother’s and daughters, sisters and family that is utterly gripping. Louisa Morgan weaves a spell around the reader as the torch is passed from generation to generation and merges with real life history, a beautifully imagined fiction that has huge doses of reality. I really loved it, clever, magical and intense, a mesmerising tale that you won’t want to end. Recommended.
This was such a wonderful read! It was a bit of a slow start but it definitely picked up after a few chapters. It was so interesting to dive into this long line of witches and learn about the different family members and their powers. There’s so much history, romance, magic a bit of suspense and I loved every minute of this. The ONLY reason I took one star away is because whenever I found myself getting more and more involved in a certain witch’s story, we would move on to the next “book” or family member. I need more!!!
I really liked this! There was a lot of emotions for me, sadness and anger that people actually hunted magical women...or just women. The story kept me engaged throughout the generations. I definitely want to read the other books Louisa Morgan has out!
Starting in Brittany in 1821, this is the history of one family of witches, the Orchieres. They are Romani, and therefore automatically suspect whenever someone wants to persecute a witch. Which is why one night Grand-mere Ursule gives her life to hide the family from a witch hunting priestI, telling them to flee across the channel to Cornwall, taking the family’s two treasures: the grimoire, and the large crystal that was dug from the mud many generations ago.
Seventeen years later, having found an abandoned farmstead and settled on it, the priest who had been searching for them on the night Ursule died finds them again. Nanette, the youngest girl of the family, finds that Ursules power has passed to her, and she and her sisters make a spell of protection. And so it goes through the generations; in each generation, there is one powerful woman. Others may have the knack of potions or small spells, but only one carries the power to activate the crystal.
We meet five generations of women. Some I adored; one I disliked intensely. Fortunes change through the years- drastically. Some are lucky in love; some are not. Some are dedicated to honoring the wheel of the year; some don’t perform the rituals for years. In the final book, the power of the Orchiere line becomes crucial to the protection of England. Through it all, their power and religion must be kept strictly secret.
I really enjoyed this book. The details of the lives of the women- especially during their years on the farm- bring the story to life. These are vivid, strong women. The only flaw in the book is the last book; after the body of the book is told in a way that one could easily believe it could have happened, the last book is rather over the top. It makes use of a historic person who seems like an unlikely witch, although it *would* explain her amazingly long life! I’d say four and a half stars out of five.
I really loved this engrossing saga about a family cursed with magical ability - and the extra spin put on events surrounding WW2 worked particularly well... Highly recommended for fans of family-based historical adventures with a twist of magic
A Secret History of Witches is a novel for lovers of family sagas where a baton is passed from generation to generation. In this case, the baton is a scrying stone that aids the daughters who receive it in the practice of their witchcraft.
The book's synopsis provides a nice glimpse of the story without giving too much away, but in hindsight that could be because there aren't really any big "reveals" to spoil. Readers looking for historical character-driven novels are likely to enjoy this more than those needing threads of mystery and intrigue to pull along the way. And while these particular characters are obviously witches, supernatural elements take a backseat to mother/daughter relationships, the English caste system, and various events such as World War II.
And speaking of WWII (which to be clear is only the backdrop of the last fifth of the book), lovers of the modern English monarchy are in for a treat as young Princess Elizabeth and Queen (Mother) Elizabeth show up in a fun, unexpected way. If you'd enjoy a fresh take on this era, A Secret History of Witches might just cast its spell on you.
Three and a half stars: A lengthy novel that explores the tradition of witch craft over two hundred years as it is passed from mother to daughter.
It is the eighteen hundreds, witches aren’t hunted and burned at the stake like they once were, but make no mistake, being branded a witch still has devastating consequences even two hundred years past the height of the witch hunts. That is why on this particular night, the Orchiere family is on the road, fleeing the villagers who mean to persecute them. Grandmere Ursule pushes out her powers to cloak them, giving her life in the process. She leaves behind her clan, but her magic seems to die with her. Until one day, the youngest of the Orcheres, Nanette, realizes her powers. The power is once again wielded and passed from mother to daughter. Will they power serve for good or ill? What I Liked: *A History of Witches is a lengthy, multi generational novel that spans two hundred years, over the lives of five witches. If you have the patience for this type of novel, and you don’t mind the slow pace, this is an interesting novel to take on. I rather enjoyed this tale. *I liked that each witch was unique and each wielded the power in a different way. Some hardly used it, while others snatched it up and bent the power for their own personal gain. Of course, I found myself drawn more to certain witches than others, but they each were interesting to follow. *I enjoyed the changing of the points of views and the changing of the times. I also appreciated that the book started in the early 1800s and spanned through World War II which isn’t the typical time frame for a witch book. It was nice to get something beyond the seventeenth century when witch hunting was at its peak. I especially liked the final chapters that were set durning World War II. I was especially surprised by how the witches wielded their powers to help the war aid, and who was involved. *The book moves at a slow pace, and some readers might get frustrated at the pedantic pace of the story, but I rather enjoyed it. The voices shift just as each witch is coming into her power. Often the mother witch is still in the background, aging and watching her daughter and helping, while other times the witch is on her own. I liked exploring each character, watching her make mistakes, and I liked the slow pace. *The story ends in a good spot, while the story could go on, I thought that it ended in a good place. I listened to he audiobook version narrated by Polly Lee. I thought Ms. Lee did a good enough job with the narration, and I think that I enjoyed this book far more on audio verses if I had read it. And The Not So Much: *My biggest frustration with this one was the skipping ahead in time. There were several points in the book where one witch’s story is reaching the climatic point, and then the story jumps ahead into the future with the next witch’s story. I was especially frustrated when the narration shifted from Ursule to Irene because I wanted to know much more about how Irene fared after she escaped the farm. Tiny details are given, but it wasn’t enough. Then when the narration shifts from Morwen to Veronica a great deal is skipped again, and not many of the pieces are filled in. *The overall message of the book got to be repetitive. Basically, each witch is taught to fear men and their oppressive rule. I got it the first time around, it got old after awhile. *I also found myself wishing that the witches had learned to do more with their powers than ensnare men to propagate their line. Finally, at least Veronica does something different with her powers.
A History of Witches is a hard book to review. On one hand, I was fascinated and riveted by the tale, but I can honestly say this isn’t a book for everyone. If you like slow paced tales that cover generations and span decades, this is for you. Don’t expect a fast paced novel with lots of action, instead you get an interesting story about how each witch learns to adapt to the times and use her powers. It requires patience, but I found it worth the effort.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own, and I was not compensated for this review. Posted@Rainy Day Ramblings.
The blurb of the book sounded promising. Witches throughout history all being related to one another? Sign me up. However, this failed to deliver on just about everything.
First, I was surprised by how sexist this book was. The witches had immense power, but still lived in fear of men. Men knew about this power too, but still bossed the women around. Men were also characterized as either stupid or evil, nowhere in between, and almost no one had any identifying characteristics to separate themselves from one another.
Two, nothing happened in this book! The plot essentially is just this: woman has a baby young. That baby has powers. They grow up without learning their family history or how to control/use their powers. They have a baby. Repeat.
Three, the powers are so confusing. It seems that the women who possess magic are all powerful, but then sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Also, because they themselves are confused on their own history and power, it makes everything else muddled for the reader too.
The story also moves incredibly fast, even though the plot, descriptions, feelings, and actions are almost nonexistent. In Nanette’s story, she ages 14 years, gets powers, sees that a witch hunter is on her trail, sleeps with a man passing through town, and becomes pregnant within the first three chapters.
I’m incredibly disappointed in this book, and I’m so glad to be done with it.
Solid writing makes this 3 stars. I really liked the synopsis, but unfortunately, the eras for each of the witches didn't really get flushed out. Ms. Morgan keeps the witch in question in the dark (so to speak) until she becomes "a woman". Then suddenly said witch knows everything! Just as you are getting to know that character, it seems, boom - you're on to the next one. I wanted to know more about each woman and felt disappointed with the mother-daughter relationship for most of them. Our last one, though you get more from her story, it just left a bad vibe for me. When you bring in real people and history, you better make it good. It just didn't sit well with me. As I said, I'm going to be just a little generous for the writing. Great potential for the story, but didn't quite make it for me.
**Thank you to the publisher and Net Galley in exchange of an honest review.**
A Secret History of Witches is the story of five generations of witches and their trials and tribulations. Each witch has her own story to tell and the choices she makes in her life. I found that I enjoyed the earlier generations rather than the later ones. The background general history was fascinating but I found it a bit less believable as the stories became closer to modern times. I also found the stories were a bit uneven and more developed with the earlier generations. Overall, I did enjoy the book especially as a testament to the idea of strong and empowered women.
The style of writing is the one that heads with the story somewhere, but can’t get there. This style of writing is not engaging to me. Therefore, I’m not the right reviewer for this book. There are others who appreciate this style of writing and they will reveal veracious reviews.